Though I occasionally read non-fiction, a biography or some type of history book, my preference is for fiction. Non-fiction is more educational, but I often learn from fiction. Recently I read Oliver Potzsch’s The Ludwig Conspiracy. It’s just a so-so action novel in The Da Vinci Code vein (a weak imitation), but Bavarian castle settings and the information about “Mad” King Ludwig are entertaining and opened my mind to some German history. Among other recent reads, The Mango Bride (Marivi Soliven) was especially interesting because of its glimpses into Filipino culture, recent history, and social class system. Amy Tan’s Valley of Amazement is an intricate look at the courtesan life in Shanghai of the late 1800s to the 1930s.
I don’t challenge myself intellectually by regularly reading tomes like War and Peace (which I’ve actually read). I choose a novel because of its story and characters. But the educational tidbits that I pick up are side benefits of relaxing my mind and soaking in a good book. Responsible novelists will research their material so that whatever historical or background information provided in the story is accurate. Someday I might try to write a novel set in a particular historical era. If so, I’ll have to be prepared to do a lot of research.